Pete Rozelle Interview (page: 3 / 9)
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Back to the evolution of the Super Bowl. Did you have any idea what the Super Bowl would become when you first anticipated the conferences getting together?
Pete Rozelle: No. Particularly after the first game, because we didn't sell out.
Now I guess more people watch the Super Bowl than go to church on a given Super Bowl Sunday.
Pete Rozelle: It's awfully heavy. There are a lot of funny stories about it, with ministers having television sets in their study, and bringing their favorite parishioners in after services to watch the Super Bowl game and having a lot of fun.
How soon did it became a real phenomenon?
Pete Rozelle: Oh, I think the next year we sold out, and I think the key one was the third game. It was the first one that the AFL won. That was the New York Jets. They butchered the NFL team. Everyone knew it was going to be very competitive, and either league could win. It was up all the way after that.
What are your recollections of that exciting game?
Pete Rozelle: Well, (Joe) Namath was a very glamorous figure. He was very mild by today's standards, of say, Madonna, but he was an entertainer. He had great confidence in himself, as he had a right to. Before the game, I know, he went to some sports function in Miami, a couple of days before the game. He was drinking a scotch and water, and he says, "I assure you, we will beat the Baltimore Colts," and everyone took it as bravado. You know, he's a boastful guy. And he delivered. That was the difference. He was a very popular figure in New York and throughout the country. He delivered with that first AFL win over an NFL team.
That must have been a particularly exciting day for you. Was it?
Pete Rozelle: It was.
When you were growing up, did you have a clear vision of the things you wanted to accomplish?
Pete Rozelle: No, not really. I just knew I was intensely interested in sports. My father and his brothers were very active in sports, and I went to a lot of games as a young kid, and always followed it. I played basketball and tennis in junior high school and high school. I don't think I could make a grammar school team today, with some of the games I've seen. But I played basketball at Compton High School in California, and one of my teammates was Dick Siebert, the great Dodger outfielder, a good friend of mine.
Did you stay in touch all these years?
Pete Rozelle: He lives right near here in Fallbrook, so we do keep in touch.
When do you recall you were first attracted to the idea of a professional career in sports?
Pete Rozelle: Well, I was sports editor of the school paper. And then I did work as an athletic and news director at the junior college, and later on at the University of San Francisco as an undergraduate. I knew then I wanted to be involved in sports, and I guess my dream was to become sports editor of the Los Angeles Times.
It sounds like you were very motivated to work from an early age. What made you take a job in high school? What inspired you?
Pete Rozelle: It was basically writing. I loved watching sports and writing about them. So I was sports editor of the school paper and I worked weekends at the Long Beach Press Telegram, near my home in southern California. Just primarily an interest in sports, then from that developed the athletic publicity work that I did in school.
It sounds like that served you in very good stead.
Pete Rozelle: It did.
You recognized that was a big break.
Pete Rozelle: Sure. At that point, I think I had achieved my original goal of being sports editor of the Los Angeles Times, because I was publicity director of the Rams right in my home area, right where I grew up, and it was wonderful.
You mentioned that you played sports when you were younger. Did you ever consider becoming a pro player?
Pete Rozelle: No, I wasn't at that level. I certainly didn't. But it was fun and I really enjoyed that.
Do you think it's important for kids, even if they're very serious academically, to get involved in sports?
Pete Rozelle: Oh, I think that the broader base you have as a person, the better off you are. In other words, sports, or music, or any other form of avocation.
In interviewing some of our honorees, we've found that a lot of these Nobel Prize-winning scientists and heart surgeons were very active in sports.
Pete Rozelle: I've met a lot of them over the years, including presidents like Dick Nixon, who grew up in Whittier, right near where my home was in Southern California. He was a red-hot football fan. Liked all sports, but football in particular. I know one time I was visiting Congress, and talking to some committee, lobbying for something or another while he was President. Then I went over to the White House to see Herb Klein, who was Nixon's press secretary, and he is now here in San Diego, assistant to the publisher of the Copley Papers. Herb said, "The President is flying down to Florida this afternoon, where you're going." I was going down to Miami. And he said, "Would you like to fly down with him on Air Force One?" I said, "Sure! I've got my bags right here." I was on my way to the airport to catch a flight anyway. So I flew down with him.
Did you talk about football?
Pete Rozelle: I didn't get a chance to talk with him on the plane because he was closeted with his people.
Do you recall your earliest exposure to sports as a young kid? Do you remember what first turned you on?
Pete Rozelle: Oh, it was right from the beginning, because of my father's and my uncles' interest in sports. We'd go camping, fishing, outdoor life. I was primarily interested in basketball when I was very young. I played in junior high school and high school, and later on I took tennis. But I liked basketball very much. I was short then, and very slender in those days. But as I say, I'd hate to see a video of my performances now, because I don't think I couldn't make a grammar school team, kids play so well today.
We read in a New York Times article that a counselor at summer camp said something memorable to you about building character and reputation. Do you remember?
Pete Rozelle: It was a very simple thing. It was a church camp, I think. I was there about two or three days, very young, and I just remember some counselor telling us that reputation is what people think you are, and your character is what you are. So if you have a bad reputation, you might as well have a bad character, and it pays to have a good reputation and a good character.
So it really matters how other people perceive you?
Pete Rozelle: Right. Absolutely. That stuck with me. I believe in it.
Was there anyone who particularly inspired you as a young person?
Pete Rozelle: My dad certainly, and coaches I had that I was very close to. They took a big part in my developing an interest in sports, actually. One has passed away I was very close to. His name was Bill Slybaum. He was my coach in junior high school for tennis and then he moved up the ladder academically and went to the high school about the time I got there. He was my high school coach in basketball. I became very close to him. Later on, when I came back after the service, I went to Compton Junior College near Los Angeles, and he was the junior college basketball coach. I was very close to him. I remember, I was doing publicity work for the school -- I was an undergraduate at junior college -- and he scheduled a series of games in Utah. So we drove -- we didn't have a big budget at that time -- and I was with the players, and filing reports back with the school paper and the Long Beach paper and so forth. And we had two games in a short period of time, so they suited me up and let me play in one of them. I hadn't played since high school, but it was fun.
Pete Rozelle Interview, Page:
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This page last revised on Apr 11, 2009 12:20 EST